The National Assembly on Monday unanimously approved the 26th Constitution Amendment Bill seeking an increase in the number of seats for the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) in the NA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.
This is the first Constitution amendment to be approved by the present assembly that came into existence in August after the general elections in July last year.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing the Lower House, expressed his appreciation over the consensus between all parties on recommendations for the bill.
Acknowledging the provinces' fears regarding the proposed distribution of 3 per cent of the National Finance Commission Award for provinces to ex-Fata, the prime minister said: "The economic situation is bad and their [provinces'] funds are not at the level that they should be, but I think it [sharing funds with ex-Fata] is necessary because the kind of destruction caused in Fata ─ due to the war against terrorism, the damage done there ─ KP could never cover that damage from its own development fund."
"A big accident, the separation of East Pakistan, led to a sense of deprivation among the people," he said.
"All of Pakistan should learn a lesson from that. No one should feel that Pakistan does not own them, that they do not have a stake in Pakistan," the prime minister asserted.
"This sense of deprivation is dangerous as it can be exploited by Pakistan's enemies and it is being exploited," he cautioned. "Development should always be inclusive. Areas that are left behind should also be brought up," he stated.
As the prime minister concluded his speech, Speaker Asad Qaiser called for a vote on the bill, and then on different sections of the bill.
Bill on South Punjab province
The session opened with the introduction by Makhdoom Samiul Hassan Gillani of a Constitution Amendment Bill seeking the creation of a province for South Punjab, Radio Pakistan reported.
The bill was supported by the PPP, while PML-N members stood on their seats to register their opposition to the bill. It was finally approved due to an abundance of opinions.
The House also adopted a motion authorising the NA speaker to form a special committee comprising treasury and opposition members to examine the amendment bill.
Abbasi calls for consensus on issues
Former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, in his address to the NA, praised former head of the Fata Reforms Committee, Sartaj Aziz, who he said had worked day and night to prepare a report and create consensus on issues, laying the groundwork for the passage of the bill.
"We need to have consensus on issues facing the country," Abbasi said, pointing out that the government could not provide the people of ex-Fata their rights without adequate funds.
Abbasi also noted that there was consensus on the government's decision to provide Rs100 billion in funds to the people of ex-Fata for 10 years to stimulate development in the area.
The former prime minister said that the modalities for funding should be determined to ensure that the people of ex-Fata are given equal rights and resources compared to other Pakistani citizens.
Abbasi pointed out that after the spread of terrorism and subsequent counter-terror operations, there was hardly any population in the area when the census was conducted.
Allocation of resources to provinces and allocation of seats in the National Assembly are both dependent on the population.
Abbasi stated that the number of seats given to the tribal districts will have an effect on the country's politics.
Seats for tribal districts
With the passage of this bill, residents of ex-Fata will be represented in the provincial assembly for the first time since their merger with KP was enabled via the 25th Constitutional Amendment Bill passed on May 31, 2018, which was the last day of the PML-N government.
Introduced by Mohsin Dawar, an independent lawmaker from the tribal areas, the bill increases the number of NA seats for ex-Fata representatives from six to 12, and KP Assembly seats from 16 to 24.
After remaining at loggerheads for months, the treasury and the opposition members jointly voted on the bill today, after the Lower House went into session following a two-day recess.
Debate on Fata bill
The coalition government led by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) wanted to get the bill passed last week, soon after chairman of the house committee on law and justice, Riaz Fatiana, delivered a presentation on a report regarding the bill. It was, however, unsuccessful in ensuring its passage after the opposition refused to vote without holding a thorough debate on the issue in the NA.
The opposition had also objected to the recommendations of the law and justice committee report, which had suggested an increase of three NA seats instead of six, and four PA seats instead of eight.
Dawar had agreed to the committee’s proposals after seeing the opposition to the bill by the members of the ruling coalition, who were of the view that he was asking for too much.
However, sources said that when the present members of the assembly from the tribal areas met the leadership of the opposition parties to seek their cooperation on the bill, they were told to stick to their original bill seeking to almost double their seats in the NA and the provincial assembly.
When these members told the ruling party about the opposition’s offer, the ruling PTI also agreed to the proposal for the sake of consensus.
Defence Minister Pervez Khattak had last week said that the bill would help end the sense of deprivation felt by the people of ex-Fata and allow them to take part in Pakistan's growth, as well as send a clear message that nobody would be permitted to deprive them of their rights.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has already announced a schedule for the election on 16 seats of the erstwhile Fata for the KP Assembly.
Mohsin Dawar has said that under the Constitution, the elections in erstwhile Fata areas for the provincial assembly seats are to be held by July 25 this year. However, he said that he would also be moving an amendment seeking a six-month extension in the deadline for holding of the elections.